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26/11 case: Pak court declares Kasab, 13 others absconders

By Rezaul H Laskar
October 31, 2009 20:41 IST
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A Pakistani anti-terror court conducting the trial of seven suspects in connection with the Mumbai attacks has declared 14 other accused, including Ajmal Kasab, as "absconders" and adjourned the matter till November 7.

During Saturday's proceedings, Judge Malik Muhammad Akram Awan declared 14 other suspects linked to the attacks -- including Kasab, the lone terrorist captured alive by Indian authorities during the strikes -- as "absconders," sources said.

Details of the other 13 were not immediately available.

Khwaja Sultan, the lawyer representing LeT operations commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi -- one of the seven suspects arrested by Pakistani authorities, told PTI that Judge Awan adjourned the case till next Saturday.

Saturday's proceedings were dominated by reservations expressed by the accused over the manner in which they were indicted during a hearing held on October 10.

Judge Baqir Ali Rana, who was earlier conducting the trial, had formally charged the accused in the absence of their lawyers.

The accused, who have declined to plead guilty or not guilty, on Saturday again protested about the manner in which they were charged, sources said.

The accused also filed two fresh applications regarding their reservations about the conduct of the trial. Judge Awan asked the prosecution to respond to these applications by the next hearing, Sultan said.

Sultan declined to divulge the contents of the applications and only said they contained certain reservations expressed by the accused.

A Rawalpindi-based bench of the Lahore High Court had on October 26 directed the anti-terror court to take into account the views of the accused and to redress their grievances before proceeding with their indictment.

The high court issued the order after the accused filed a petition in which they said the anti-terror court had framed charges against them in the absence of their lawyers.

Sultan said the anti-terror court had not yet received a copy of the High Court's order while the prosecution argued that the High Court had not issued any direction asking the anti-terror court to take into account the views of the accused.

"We argued that the anti-terror court could easily verify this matter," Sultan said.

The Mumbai attacks case has been mired in controversy and confusion over the past few weeks. The anti-terror court's gag order on lawyers and others connected with the case and a ban on media coverage has made it virtually impossible to ascertain even basic facts.

The trial is being held within the Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi because of security concerns.

The seven suspects -- Lakhvi, Zarar Shah, Abu al-Qama, Hamad Amin Sadiq, Shahid Jamil Riaz, Jamil Ahmed and Younas Anjum -- have been booked under the Anti-Terrorism Act.

They have been accused of training and providing financial support, accommodation, equipment and communications gear to the 10 terrorists who attacked Mumbai last year.

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Rezaul H Laskar in Islamabad
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